Liberal Julie Dabrusin surprised almost everyone with her upset victory in the traditional NDP territory of Toronto-Danforth.

Dabrusin scores one of election night’s biggest upsets

Going into yesterday’s election, one thing seemed certain: NDP incumbent Craig Scott was safe in Toronto-Danforth, the riding that everyone considered a New Democratic fortress in Toronto — the riding of the late, beloved NDP Leader Jack Layton.

Julie Dabrusin and the Liberals proved them all wrong.

Late last night, long after the big newsroom decision desks had declared most of the other GTA ridings — along with a majority Liberal government for the country — the atmosphere was still tense at Il Fornello on Danforth Avenue, where Dabrusin’s supporters had gathered. She clung to a precarious lead most of the evening, and there seemed to be a delay in tallying all of Toronto-Danforth’s votes.

But with a red tide rolling across the country, and their candidate running ahead, Dabrusin’s supporters crossed their fingers and clinked their glasses in anticipation.

Dabrusin had planned on watching the count of votes at home. But she later said that she felt bad about making her supporters wait while the results firmed up. So she headed over to her campaign’s party — and wound up learning that she was the declared winner in the middle of Danforth Avenue, on her way into Il Fornello. A thousand-vote margin of victory. About 42 per cent of the votes in a six-candidate field. She walked in the door to a crowd chanting her name.  

“What an amazing journey this has been for the Liberals. Throughout the campaign, we talked about hope and hard work, and we had it here in Toronto-Danforth today,” Dabrusin said. “Now the hard work begins.”

Silvana Diddazio, who organized the election party at Il Fornello, is hopeful about the election results, both locally and federally.

“He’s bringing Canadians together,” Diddazio said of the prime minister-designate, Justin Trudeau. “We’ve been kind of divided and separated under Harper, and Trudeau is planning to fix that. He’s a collaborator.”

Richard Dabrusin, the candidate’s father, said he realized the full extent of his daughter’s reach and popularity in the community days ago while distributing pamphlets. As they walked the neighbourhood (the campaign says it hit 30,000 houses in total) someone in their car rolled down their window to yell, “Go Julie!”

As for what Dabrusin will tackle first, her father has no doubts: “It’ll be social issues. That’s always been her major interest.”

Dabrusin may be a novice politician, but she has already accomplished a lot in her time working with the Toronto-Danforth community, earning the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for Community Service in 2013. She is on the board of directors of Park People, a Toronto alliance for better parks; she established and chaired the Frankland Community Advisory Committee to improve the use of the city’s recreational resources; and she helped found Friends of Withrow Park.

“She’ll do great things for this area,” her father said.

“When I started, what had motivated me to get involved was the need to tackle income inequality in our community, as one of my first priorities — and child care,” Dabrusin herself said in an interview. “These issues are still very real, and very important to me.”

Dabrusin said she tried to keep an open dialogue with the public during her campaign, going door-to-door to speak with the people of the riding — which comprises the southwest third of East York. She cited this as one of the defining reasons for her win.

“It was all the discussion. It was talking to a lot of people and hearing what they had to say, and people were very thoughtful, had great questions and great ideas, and listening to them was a big part of it,” she said. “The people in the Danforth are great, they’re very engaged and have great ideas, and we’re going to do great things.”